Manish Dayal plays the young culinary ingénue Hassan Kadam in The Hundred-Foot Journey, out in theaters today, August 8, 2014.
Meet Manish Dayal
I had the pleasure to interview Manish about his role as Hassam and working on the film. He was so fabulous in this role. I’m sure this is going to be his breakout role. You may remember him from “90210” or “Switched at Birth,” but you’ll certainly remember him in this role once you’ve seen the movie. He’s down-to-earth and your average guy. He had such great charisma!
Manish: So I’ve been getting that question a lot lately. No. [LAUGHTER] But I’ve definitely learned a lot about cooking, definitely in the movie it wasn’t so much about learning how to cook but more just how to understand kitchen culture. Because we had to understand how to chop and where to stand and how to move and how to make sure that all of the dishes were effectively made. And I think that was the challenge in terms of learning kitchen etiquette and stuff like that for the film.
How did you get involved in the project?
Manish: It was a really, really funny story actually. I mean I don’t know how much time we have to tell you the whole story. So I went in for a voiceover audition for an animated feature that DreamWorks is doing. I went in and one of the people that sort of first sort of spotted me was Leslie Feldman. And she’s the casting executive over at DreamWorks. And we ended up having this great conversation the whole time we were in this audition, not auditioning just talking.
And then that night I get a phone call asking if I’d come back in and read for a different project. They wouldn’t tell me the name or anything about it. I did, of course. I found out Steven Spielberg was involved. And so I was like holy sh*t. [LAUGHTER] He’s like a childhood hero of mine, which I’ll talk to you about later. But, anyway, so I go into this room. And I ended up reading a scene, I think 38 times. I must’ve read it trying it every different way you can imagine.
And then those tapes went to Steven and Oprah. I found out that they were very excited. And then I went in for more meetings and sort of an interview and then more meetings and more meetings over the course of four and a half months. Then I met Lasse Hallström in New York, who ultimately signed off. And then I got a phone call the next day saying that Steven wants to hire you. And that’s how it happened. It was a long, long, crazy amazing entertaining experience.
It’s such a passionate film. Did Chef Floyd do the actual cooking on set?
Manish: Oh, there were so many chefs on set. There were Indian chefs. There were French chefs, all over the place. Definitely Floyd came in towards the end of the process. But ultimately it was a combination of many different chefs, many different sorts of cooks in the kitchen, if you will, especially because we traveled through about four kitchens in the movie. We begin in India. And then we go to a classic French kitchen in the south of France. And then we move to a molecular kitchen in Paris. So it definitely travels.
Where were you when you got the call?
Manish: I was in New York.
Who was around you?
Manish: I was by myself. I’m really glad I was by myself. Whew! I think at first I was speechless. I was shocked. And then the first thing I did was call my mom.
Did your weight fluctuate at all?
Manish: It did, yes. I lost a bit of weight for the India portion. I wanted to make sure that he had sort of a youthful presence, innocence presence, one that was void of any sort of complications at that point in the movie.
What’s it like working with Helen Mirren?
Manish: First I should tell you that she’s hilarious, and she has a very, very crass sense of humor. And I think that’s something we had a lot in common. So we ended up just laughing all the time. And she was telling me stories about her life and how she got started in this business. So it was good to learn from her. Also when we were working, I could see how she prepares, what her process was like.
And, um, that was also really cool. It was an amazing experience. And she also told me something that I won’t forget, which was when you pick movies to do you, should just pick them based on how much fun you’re gonna have. So I thought that was really good advice.
What scene was the most difficult?
Manish: Most difficult scene to film for me was the scene when we’re cooking for the Maison of Mumbai. Around the boning knife. I don’t know if you remember that line. But that scene had to be choreographed in a way because so much is happening in that scene. The stakes are so high. This is a family and this is their one shot. Papa’s coming here, and he’s having to make a life for his family.
The stakes for him are through the roof. These are new immigrants coming to this foreign place. And for me I felt like my character should feel the weight of the world on his shoulders in combination with Papa. And I thought that the scene needed to be very quiet and still. And what made it challenging was the environment around me. You know, we have a huge boisterous family in this kitchen and so much going on and lines and things just flying all over the place.
And I just have to really be kind of still and silent and observant in that scene. So I thought that that was pretty challenging.
Did you meet Oprah?
Manish: I did meet Oprah. And, yes, she’s really amazing. She’s all the things that you know about her she’s that much more incredible. She’s giving and generous.
The most interesting thing about her is how generous she is with her knowledge and her knowledge of the world and how much she did impart and which things that we talked about on set. So I did get to spend some time with her. And it’s clear to me, and I think all of you guys, of why she’s connected to this story. I mean this is a story about a displaced family that has to sort of find their way in this new place and overcome all these obstacles culturally, racially, in every way.
And it’s a real immigrant story. And I think that that’s why she connected to it. And these are the stories that she wants to tell. I think she did it. Hopefully.
What was most surprising about food culture? What do you hope audiences will take from this?
Manish: I went into it thinking that the French culture and the Indian culture are completely different. There’s nothing about these two cultures that are similar, until I started working on the movie, and living with these people who were making the movie. And I realized they’re actually distinctly similar unlike any other culture in the world because of their appreciation for food. They both have this sort of like razor sharp appreciation for it that I don’t think any other culture has.
And I think that the interesting part about that is that a French—a French kitchen is really structured. It’s very formulaic. There’s a formula for everything. There’s a way to do everything. And there’s a way to stand. And everyone has a skill in the kitchen. And you know your skill by not going beyond your skill. So there’s a hierarchy there that’s really respected. It’s really quite amazing to watch how everyone follows the rules.
Then in an Indian kitchen, it’s not like that at all. It’s about who’s gonna get this thing cooked, and how are we gonna make it happen? And both yield great tasting food. But the cultures in these kitchens is so different. And that’s one of the most interesting things I learned. But they still have the same sort of razor sharp appreciation for cooking and food. It’s just done in a very different way.
How was the chemistry between you and Marguerite?
Manish: Well, you tell me. [LAUGHTER]
It was hot and spicy.
Manish: There we go. I think it was hot and spicy off too. We definitely became good friends—no, no, no, no, no. [LAUGHTER] What? I think we did have very good chemistry because, you know, we were friends. Like we just became friends fast because of her sort of sense of humor, which she’ll make any joke and she will say any damn thing you can imagine.
And I love that about her. I thought she was just very off the cuff. And we just laughed a lot, and we became sort of pranksters. And it was fun. And so I think that that translated on screen. Also I think what made working with her unique was any time I had a scene with Charlotte I never prepared really. I just knew what I was gonna say. And I understood the tone of the scene and what I need, the objectives and things like that. We never worked before shooting because when we were shooting anything it was just like the weirdest things could happen.
And we just had to roll with it. And that’s what made our scenes really alive and I think pumped with energy. With the other actors it was a little more planned. I had to really think about the beats and where things moved and where we’re starting, where we’re ending. ‘Cause with Charlotte we just sort of did it. But that’s what made it cool.
Did you read the book?
Manish: I read it before. I read it twice before. And I always had it under my arm when I was shooting. Lasse’s directing style is the best because his vision’s always moving, organic. It’s evolving. Things change. Lines get added. Lines get cut. It’s just like this thing that moves all the time. And I wanted to have the book because sometimes if I was unsure about something that I was doing in the movie I would refer to the book.
And there was this one line where I go to the window and I say, “We’re not visitors anymore.” “We’re not visitors anymore. If you can’t beat them, join them.” It’s a huge turning point for my character because he’s starting to sort of play the game if you will because he has to do that at several points in the movie in order to reach his point of realization. And at that point I knew that something needed to be said.
And the line that was in the script just didn’t make sense. To me it wasn’t poignant enough. I flipped open the book, and I saw that line. We’re not visitors anymore. And it spoke to me in a real way because that’s exactly what they’re trying to achieve. They’re trying not to be nomadic anymore. They are trying to settle down. They’re trying to find a life for themselves to survive. And that line completely said it to me. And so I went to Lasse, said this is what I want to say. He said do it.
What foods evoked memories of home?
Manish: Well, two things, of my mom, grilled cheese sandwiches. Nobody can make a grilled cheese sandwich like my mother. It’s this one thing. She didn’t do it often growing up. But I remember when she did it it was always late at night for me and my siblings. If we were hungry she would make grilled cheese sandwiches. And she makes them perfectly. And it is something that she does that I really sort of love. And then also, Indian-wise, she makes rice and daal, which is a very simple thing.
But everybody makes it differently. That thing about daal is that it is, depending on where you’re from in India where your family originates, daal is a uniform dish. But everybody cooks it differently. Where I’m from, where we’re raised, which is also where the Hagi’s originate in the movie, they put sugar in it. So to me daal should be sweet. But to a northern Indian it shouldn’t be, you know? And for us it’s runnier. And in the north it’s thicker. It just depends. You know, everyone makes it differently.
But that’s something that my mom makes. I’m actually going home tonight. I haven’t been home in a while.
What was your favorite dish on set?
Manish: The beef bourguignon. That was good. I killed it. [LAUGHTER] I ate so much of it that day. And I remember it was a scene that I was shooting before lunch broke. Afterwards, I couldn’t even eat lunch I ate so much of it. It was really good.
How did you feel about the interracial aspect?
Manish: No, it’s very interesting. I would have to say two things about that. One, I have no complaints about kissing Charlotte. [LAUGHTER] She’s a French model for God’s sakes. I remember—nevermind, anyway, the second part of your question is, you know, it’s funny. I thought about that. But, you know, the one thing that I’ve been really lucky to do in my career is I’ve been able to play, and I don’t know, maybe, I am not sure why this is, but I’ve been able to play an Indian guy in an American experience or a western experience.
And that’s something really unique for south Asians. We’re a very growing, fast growing immigrant community. And one of the fastest actually, economically, socially and so on. But we haven’t gotten to a point where we are represented in film and TV on the mainstream level. So for me it was a real privilege to sort of be a part of that movement because that’s what this is in my opinion that, you know, an Indian and white relationship is something we don’t see all the time.
I did it on “90210.” And I don’t know many other storylines on TV or in film on the mainstream level that have that. So I’ve been a part of that twice. And I think that it is a reward, and it is privilege. And it also is something that I hope becomes more common. And so all in all it was good. It was great. No complaints, yeah.
What’s the message you want everyone to walk away with?
Manish: I would say that this movie, the message that I hope people feel or walk away with is that in order to achieve something great you have to go after life’s uncertainty. And I think that is what I believe this movie is about. It’s about going into the unknown and not knowing what the f*ck’s gonna happen because then that’s what’s so—oh, sorry, can I not say that? [LAUGHTER]
My publicist, she’s walking out of the room now. [LAUGHTER] Don’t say f*ck. Um, sorry, Disney. Going after life’s uncertainty and committing yourself to a higher purpose. That’s what I think this movie’s about. For everyone in the movie, not just my character, it’s that way for Om Puri who when he arrives in France, you know, this guy with four kids to feed. Like wow!
And, you know, Helen Mirren really trying to sort of do away with years and years of culture and experience that she knows. And she’s hardened to it and then sort of loosening that up. That’s tough. So I think everyone has a little bit of a journey. And I think my character really does go after something that is difficult and challenging and not knowing what the result. And that is real f*ck—no, sorry—
That is real courage in my opinion. So that’s what I think the movie’s about. And sorry for the f-word.
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THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY arrives in theaters everywhere on August 8th!
About THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY
In “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is a culinary ingénue with the gastronomic equivalent of perfect pitch. Displaced from their native India, the Kadam family, led by Papa (Om Puri), settles in the quaint village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France. Filled with charm, it is both picturesque and elegant—the ideal place to settle down and open an Indian restaurant, the Maison Mumbai. That is, until the chilly chef proprietress of Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin starred, classical French restaurant run by Madame Mallory (Academy Award®-winner Helen Mirren), gets wind of it. Her icy protests against the new Indian restaurant a hundred feet from her own escalate to all out war between the two establishments—until Hassan’s passion for French haute cuisine and for Mme. Mallory’s enchanting sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), combine with his mysteriously delicious talent to weave magic between their two cultures and imbue Saint-Antonin with the flavors of life that even Mme. Mallory cannot ignore. At first Mme. Mallory’s culinary rival, she eventually recognizes Hassan’s gift as a chef and takes him under her wing.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” abounds with flavors that burst across the tongue. A stimulating triumph over exile, blossoming with passion and heart, with marjoram and madras, it is a portrayal of two worlds colliding and one boy’s drive to find the comfort of home, in every pot, wherever he may be.
Directed by Lasse Hallström, and starring Academy Award-winner Helen Mirren, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is produced by Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, and Juliet Blake. The executive producers are Caroline Hewitt and Carla Gardini. The screenplay is written by Steven Knight, based on the novel “The Hundred-Foot Journey” by Richard C. Morais.
Disclaimer: I was selected to attend an all-expense paid trip to LA courtesy of Disney to experience these incredible events, along with a group of 24 other bloggers. All opinions, excitement, and smiles are my own.
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